sidebar-splatTo innovate & create, you have to try a lot of ideas to see which one works. Throw them at the wall & see what sticks. Some ideas will splat & blossom into something wonderful. Others will drop to the floor & our task is to scoop it up, reform it, & try again.

The Splat/Drop Wall is TomTod’s place to play catch with you & a world of opportunity, tossing around possibilities & ponderings to see what might splat & what might drop. So put on your play pants & add your dreams & hopes to the mix!


In this day and age, almost everything that can be accessed in stores can be found online. There are shopping sites like Amazon and eBay to order what we need. We have streaming services, like Netflix and Hulu, to watch our favorite shows and movies in the comforts of our own homes. There are even companies like Audible, Kindle, and Epic! where we can have access to thousands of online books to read or listen to on a device. With this advancement in technology, more kids have started reading e-books instead of actual books. But, what effect will this have on them in the future?


How Technology affects us—and not in the way you might think!

I recently read an article on MindShift by Holly Korbey which talks about how digital text changes how kids read in a way we might not think of. My initial reaction was that digital text was causing negative effects on kids reading skills, but this was simply not the case. Daniel T. Willingham, a cognitive scientist, says that there are both good and bad aspects of digital reading. He actually wrote a whole book, called The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads, where he explores a very important skill—of course, I’m talking about reading! A lot of activities that kids partake in like texting and social media, sometimes even gaming, won’t be influencing their reading comprehension. Kids aren’t being exposed to big vocabularies, Willingham says, as most of their encounters will be from reading captions on Instagram posts or Snapchat messages.

In fact, it’s not digital reading that concerns Willingham. It’s the fact that activities like playing video games will train kids to crave fast-paced activities and push reading physical books to the side. It’s no secret that kids are spending more time in front of screens with each passing day. He explains that with technology at the tip of our fingers, it’s easy to find something else to do when one gets bored.

Let’s make reading fun!

As a child, I remember participating in summer reading challenges at my local library. My mom would take my sister and I to check out a few books and set time aside each day to read them. After reading a certain amount of books, we would earn prizes. My family and I even had a chart on our fridge where we earned star stickers each time we did our reading for the day. Once we completed a row, my mom and dad gave us a special treat, usually consisting of a sweet snack. This was something we did together, as a family, and I can say that it definitely got me to read! Your local library might have activities like this, too, so keep an eye out! If not, you can always start your own reading challenge at home.

Watermelons or Chocolate?

“It’s watermelon or chocolate for dessert. I love watermelon and so do my kids, but chocolate is more tempting,” Willingham says. “I want my kids to enjoy chocolate, but I want them to eat watermelon because it’s a little more enriching and it’s a different kind of enjoyment.” It’s nice to have a sweet treat once in a while, but the more you have it the less enjoyable it will be. It’s like taking care of a hamster or another small pet. You have to change up its environment once in a while or it will simply get bored. So, it’s nice to take a break and try, or in this case eat, something different to really enjoy it. It’s important to slow down and enjoy the slower pleasures of reading once in a while. Willingham is all for limiting screen time to let kids discover the beauty of reading. Try and think about how the environment is in your home right now. Are good examples being set to show limitations in certain activities? If not, try implementing this idea of watermelons over chocolate idea and see what happens.

Pay Attention

Julie Coiro, a reading researcher at the University of Rhode Island, says that reading online requires even more attention than reading a book. With so many links to other sites, there is so much more information to process. And, unlike books, online reading can bring up more questions that can be answered right then and there.

“Now that process happens repeatedly in about 4 seconds: I choose a link. I decide whether I want to be here/I don’t want to be here, and then, where should I go next?” Coiro says. The brain is constantly focusing on what choice to make and what links to click. The digital reading company Epic! tries to keep digital reading as close to a book as possible and tries their best to keep ads, videos, and links outside of the reading.

Why does this matter?

Here at TomTod, we like to be engaged with our students. We go to several schools every week and work with them in hands-on activities. As we continue to work closely with students, our aim is to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills to help further their view of the world and its ever-changing communities.  Not only is reading a good activity for the brain, but it is a good way to help teach kids to learn about forming good habits. Having your kid sit down each day at a designated time to read can help them form good habits later on. With a combination of good reading habits and these skills, middle schoolers will be more prepared to face the challenges of the changing environment around them.



It’s no question that the brain is going through changes as children enter adolescence and begin to transition into adulthood. Teenagers especially are becoming more aware socially, taking increasing amounts of risks and being influenced by the pressure of their peers. When I was in middle school, you could take a language or health in eighth grade. I wanted to take French, but it was only offered in high school at the time, so I decided to take health. Although, my school’s version of health was how to eat right and be healthy. The brain is certainly something worth keeping in good health, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to learn about. If schools incorporated the idea of teaching more on the brain,  teenagers can be more prepared and have answers to questions about why they feel certain ways. Here at TomTod, we want the young people that we work with to be successful. In order to encourage them further, it takes a little understanding of some of the processes they might be going through.

Elissa Nadworny recently wrote an article on MindShift about the ever-changing teenage brain and the importance of understanding it. She interviewed  Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, author of Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain, to key in on how adults think, problem solve, and learn. We think the concepts found in this book are so worthwhile, that our staff are each actually working through reading the book on their own!

Here are three points she makes throughout the interview about a healthy brain:

Catching Some Zzzz’s

First, there’s sleep. While it can be a common struggle of the modern teen, it can also be their best friend. Blakemore wants people to know that sleep is important— more than we might think. Teenagers tend to stay up later because of this, resulting in being more tired in the morning. According to Blakemore, some schools that have been adjusting start times to determine any educational benefits for students.

Knowing Ourselves

In order to understand and ask why we must know a subject thoroughly. Blakemore touches upon the importance of teenagers learning about their own brains. Teenagers are more vulnerable to mental illness at this age and often have their first experience with it during these years. It’s important that they begin to understand the biological and social reasons why. Educators can be implementing lessons about the teenage brain into biology courses. But, they aren’t the only ones. Parents can also help by encouraging and educating their kids about the different types of struggles they might start to go through at this age.

Being Social, but not too social

Social media, although it can be fun, can come with consequences that can take effect on us that we probably don’t notice. Blakemore mentions that the young people she works with don’t turn their phones off at night and respond to messages throughout the night, which has its effects on sleep that is needed for proper mental health and learning. Teenagers don’t want to feel left out. They want to fit in with their friends. Social media gives them an opportunity to be engaged in social connections all throughout the day. At this point in their lives, teenagers look to peers or elders as examples that help shape them as they grow into adolescence. Parents can help to set good examples by showing good habits early on. Not being on social media for long hours during the day can have more effects than one might think on a young teen. Talking about how to stay safe while on social media is a good topic to introduce to teenagers so they can be wary of what’s going on in their social media and try to stay out of trouble with others.

I encourage you to read this entire article. It’s important to be aware of how our own bodies work—especially our brains! The human brain is so powerful, and we can’t function without it.  Here at TomTod, we encourage young people to understand more about themselves as they make this transition into adolescence. We encourage young people to find their voice and share their ideas.


At the end of the year, we reflect on how we create impact and empower middle schoolers. Morgan’s not a middle schooler anymore but she was when TomTod began…

When TomTod Ideas was just getting started, Morgan was one of the very first students to participate in our What If You Could mentorship adventure. As a Canton City Schools middle schooler, she saw the challenges of bullying and, through her U³ project (Stand Up, Speak Up, Don’t Give Up), she created a peer-to-peer anti-bullying curriculum that she piloted in partnership with Lehman Middle School.

Morgan’s connections with TomTod didn’t stop there, though. This past spring she joined us for our annual fundraiser, the Feast of Ideas, and shared why her What If You Could experience continues to inspire and drive her.

“I was surprised that someone cared,” Morgan shared “(and) that self worth makes you want to go out and change things!”

Watch Morgan’s 2 minute reflection on why she values TomTod’s work with students:

This past summer, Morgan, now a University of Akron student, teamed up with TomTod again, this time as a camp counselor for Camp What If. Through 3 different camps in June and July, Morgan passed on that care that she experienced to a new generation of middle schoolers.

TomTod Ideas loves seeing middle schoolers move from idea to action and we connect middle schoolers with mentors and tools to do just that, but as Morgan says, “one person can’t do it all, you need a group of people to do it together.” That’s where you come in!

Would you join us in working with middle schoolers (and the adults they become) to engage their communities and take action? By giving today, you’ll be supporting programming like Camp What If and What If You Could that empowers middle schoolers to put their ideas in motion.

Please consider giving a gift today at

Thank you for your support!

At the end of the year, we reflect on how we create impact and empower middle schoolers. Here’s another story of the amazing students we work with.

You can also donate here to help us finish the year strong!

When Aaron and Gwyn explored their community at Camp What If: Canton, they loved what they saw. They toured around Canton, learning about the unique attractions, history, and businesses that make the Hall of Fame City tick.

“What if,” they thought, “Our city had a smart guide to all the great things about Canton? And what if it showed you where to go?”

The result? CantonSmart, an app that curates the city for you. CantonSmart navigates users through what the city has to offer with walkthroughs of the city’s food scene and “inverted intersections.” These historic images of downtown, using geolocation in the app, let you compare city blocks from today with decades past.

Aaron and Gwyn worked alongside TomTod staff and local mentors, including developers Chris Cutter and Dan Capri with ETHOS, and Mark Holland with the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, to put their idea into motion. Now the public has a cross-platform app that serves up local history, knowledge, and food right from their phones, all thanks to middle schoolers that were empowered by TomTod Ideas. And as far as the CantonSmart team is concerned, this is just the beginning, with updated features, information and themes to come.

To promote their app to tourists visiting Canton, Aaron and Gwyn worked with their mentors to secure funding, including a prize package from Visit Canton. By visiting contestants (living outside of Stark County) can earn entries into a sweepstakes to win a 3 day Gold Package to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Enshrinement Festival Powered by Johnson Controls or, for those living in Stark County, a prize package of gift certificates to local restaurants.

TomTod Ideas loves seeing middle schoolers move from idea to action and we connect middle schoolers with mentors and tools to do just that – but we can’t do it alone.

Would you join us in aiding middle schoolers like Gwyn and Aaron to engage their communities and take action? By giving today, you’ll be supporting programming like Camp What If and What If You Could that empowers middle schoolers to put their ideas in motion.

Aaron and Gwyn aren’t the only middle schooler making a difference. You can hear the inspiring stories of students like Rowyn, Nyrii, and Manny (and more!) on our Stories page.

Please consider giving a gift today at

Thank you for your support!


At the end of the year, we reflect on how we create impact and empower middle schoolers. Here’s just one story of the amazing students we work with.

You can also donate here to help us finish the year strong!

When middle schooler Rowyn saw a 360° virtual reality video at Camp What If, his heart broke. He saw kids his own age without homes, with nowhere to go. “I was surprised, and felt bad for these people,” he said.


Rowyn had just watched the true story of 11-year-old Oleg, a refugee from Ukraine, who fled his home to avoid violence and war. “Kids were standing in a school classroom full of bomb shells … they’ve gone through a lot,” he said. At Camp What If, Rowyn discovered stories of refugees now living in Akron, Ohio, too—just miles from his own home. “I want to help make their lives easier.”

How’s Rowyn doing it? With What If You Could – the project launching program at TomTod Ideas. He formed a team with friends and we connected him with adult mentors, and together, they’re tackling the international refugee crisis – one of the worst humanitarian crises of the century – with an app.

Rowyn’s calling it Refugee Connect. Just like when we move to a new neighborhood and acclimate to our new home, this app helps refugees make a new home in an unfamiliar land. “We’re connecting refugees to resources,” he said. “I want to help them adjust to the US.”

The app will show new refugees how to get settled in their new areas and where to go if they need help. “If I can help them, then I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something,” Rowyn says with a smile.

TomTod Ideas has a heart for middle schoolers because of kids like Rowyn, who see the needs of hurting people like Oleg and immediately want to help. We connect middle schoolers with mentors and tools to do just that – but we can’t do it alone.

Would you join us in aiding middle schoolers like Rowyn solve humanitarian problems, engage their communities, and take action in the world? By giving today, you’ll be supporting programming like What If You Could that empowers middle schoolers to help those who need it most.

Rowyn isn’t the only middle schooler who’s making a difference. You can hear the inspiring stories of students like Lucy, Nyrii, and Manny (and more!) involved in our other programs, What If 101 and Camp What If, on our Stories page.

Here’s how you can help today:

  • $25 covers the supplies a student like Nyrii needs in a What If 101 cohort for a year
  • $50 covers meals for a camper at Camp What If for one week
  • $200 is seed funding that allows teams like Rowyn’s to launch their projects, giving aid to people and enhancing the common good
  • $350 covers the cost of one scholarship so a middle schooler like Lucy can attend Camp What If

Your gift goes far beyond middle school. When you give today, you connect middle schoolers like Rowyn, Nyrii, Lucy, Manny, and many others to programs that build their strengths, to mentorships where they creatively solve problems, and to resources that build competent, caring lives.

Please consider giving a gift today at

Thank you for your support!

It’s TomTod Ideas’ 5th birthday! We’ve been empowering middle school students to launch absurd ideas that enhance the common good for five years now, and it’s been a momentous half decade. We’re celebrating with a 5 for 5: Five things we love about middle schoolers.

1. Critical Thinking

It can be difficult – if not downright impossible – to fully sum up the middle school brain. But that’s one of the reasons we love middle schoolers: Their inquisitiveness, intrepid curiosity, and desire to know more (even if at first they act like they don’t care) is something that drives their middle school gray matter. It’s incredible to watch as they seek to know as much as they can before they evaluate problems and ideas, and then make decisions.

2. Creative Innovation

Let’s face it, middle schoolers can be weird. And we love that. Because we’re weird too.

Middle schoolers are at a stage where everything from their bodies and brains to their emotions and thoughts are all tangled up and learning how to grow. The amalgamation of all this confusion, possibility, and diversity (within themselves and what they see in others) is probably the source of all their good ideas. Who would have ever thought to dream up a free bikeshare program that was served out through the public library system? Who would have thought to develop an app where refugees can find resources, information, and become more acclimated to their new homes? (Look out for more info on that, later.) It’s these instances of innovation that we at TomTod Ideas feel a personal obligation to amplify. Too often all those “crazy ideas” an 11-year-old has are ignored by adults. Not here. Not by us.

3. Collaboration

Teamwork. Group work. Asking for help. Checking the facts. Using shared resources.

These are lot of things people struggle with, adults and middle schoolers alike. But we’ve found at Camp What If that when you take a diverse group of middle school students and challenge them, and also actually listen to them, a smorgasbord of collaborative possibility. We had a camper this past summer who absolutely did not want to climb through the spider web rope course at Camp What If: Wilds. Instead of demanding that she do it, our camp counselor asked why (she was afraid of falling to the ground). Then we asked if there was a way to help her overcome that fear. She wasn’t sure at first, but a friend suggested all her fellow campers help boost her legs and arms to get through. With a small amount of trepidation she agreed, and then she did it. She overcame her personal fear, worked with others, and felt more empowered to collaborate in groups for the rest of the week at camp because she had that initial challenging and impactful experience.

4. Caring

Middle schoolers are some of the most caring people we’ve ever met. They have a deep, intrinsic optimism that shines through – especially when you ask middle schoolers what their passions are. Just take a gander at Manny’s or Nyrii’s stories, you’ll see why they care so much.

At Camp What If: Masters and Wilds this summer, we focused on the international refugee crisis and how we could respond to it (and in what way.) Dan, one of our camp counselors, shared some telling evidence when we asked him about what he saw in his middle schoolers at camp:

“By the end of the week it seemed most campers had figured out how the refugee crisis related to and affected them, as well as what they could do to help.”

In one week they figured out how to respond, help, and why it’s necessary in the first place. Bingo.

5. Confidence

Sure, confidence is key…but to what, exactly? Why do we instill this in our students and cherish it? Because no one ever said middle school was easy. It’s very much the opposite. But that’s why TomTod Ideas exists. Confidence, once planted, grows and grows to combat the daily insecurities and anxieties middle schoolers face. All those times an adult said “no” to a good idea, all those times someone disregarded a middle schooler’s valid, personal opinion, or question seeking to know more, or when an adult simply can’t be bothered to deal with a middle schooler right now and tosses them a digital device to occupy their time…that’s what confidence combats. That’s the key to a positive, well-developed, supported, and empowered middle schooler: instilling in them the confidence to know they matter, their ideas matter, and they have the ability to put their dreams into motion. And when you see that happen, when you see a middle schooler realize someone is listening to them and recognizes their ideas are real and valid, that makes all the difference. It’s why we do what we do.

And there’s just five out of the many reasons we love middle schoolers. What are your five? Post on social media why you love middle schoolers with the hashtag #TomTodturns5.

It’s a big year for us as we reach the Big 5. You can help us reach another 5 more years by giving a gift so we can empower more middle schoolers, reach more schools, and enhance more communities. Thank you!


2016 Annual Report

In 2016, we grew. A lot. Our middle schoolers grew in collaboration, contribution, and character. We grew in programming, student numbers, staff, and overall intrepid creativity.

Take a gander at the impact we made in 2016!

View our report on Issuu.

TomTod Ideas was an early adopter of Giving Tuesday when it first began a few years ago. We loved using the power of social media to generate collaboration and generosity.

But this year, we did something different. We didn’t ask people for money – we gave back to them.

You can check out our swanky hashtag #TomTodGivesBack on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see our full day of giving back on Giving Tuesday.

How did it all go down?

Under the ruse of fake meetings and business shenanigans, we surprised some of our corporate sponsors in person, thanking them for their support and giving them some of the coolest stuff money can’t buy: donated local food, cards, and TomTod merch. We shared our story of surprises live on social media at every stop – and we loved every minute of it!

Here are the people who believe in TomTod Ideas (and probably won’t trust scheduling another business meeting with us ever again).

Deli Ohio

TomTod Ideas at Deli Ohio

Hall, Kistler, and Company

TomTod Ideas at Hall, Kistler, & Co.

Four Kids Coffee

TomTod Ideas at Four Kids Coffee

DeHoff Realtors

TomTod Ideas at DeHoff Realtors

Ramsburg Insurance and Financial Services

TomTod Ideas at Ramsburg Insurance

Hartville Health and Wellness

TomTod Ideas at Hartville Health and Wellness

Coffee and Code

TomTod Ideas at Coffee and Code

Lucy Burick

TomTod Ideas surprising Lucy Burick

Lucy is a TomTod alum and serves as Student Representative on our Board of Directors. We surprised her at school for her birthday, thanking her for her service on the board and being an ambassador for TomTod!

We’re kind of a small crew at TomTod, so we didn’t make it to every one of our corporate sponsors on Giving Tuesday. But even if we didn’t come a knockin’ on their doors, we are so grateful for the generosity of the following organizations:

ASAP! Promotional Product Idea Leaders
Bixler & Moore, LLC
Play It Again Sports
Rotary Club of Plain Township
Yoder-Bontrager Insurance and Financial Services
Aultman College
Pro Football Hall of Fame Marathon
Tim Morris, DDS
RiverTree Christian Church
Incept Gives

Embedded in TomTod Ideas’ DNA is embracing our community and collaborating with those around us. We are tremendously grateful that these folks believe in our mission and gave to help it continue. You can be a part of that, too. TomTod Ideas wouldn’t exist without the partnership, support, and donations of these generous people and others, so as a final sign-off on Giving Tuesday, thank you.

We’re so excited to bring Landfill Harmonic to the big screen at the Canton Palace Theatre…and it’s free for schools!

The film is playing November 17 at 10am, doors open at 9:00, so mark your calendars! Reservations are required for schools. Reserve free admission below or call 330-454-8172.

We’re partnering with the Canton Symphony Orchestra to bring this film to the big screen. Here’s what your school should know about this testament to the power of education, youth, and music.

The world sends them trash. They send back music:

Landfill Harmonic follows the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, a Paraguayan musical group that plays instruments made entirely out of garbage. When their story goes viral, the orchestra is catapulted into the global spotlight. Under the guidance of idealistic music director Favio Chavez, the orchestra must navigate a strange new world of arenas and sold-out concerts. However, when a natural disaster strikes their community, Favio must find a way to keep the orchestra intact and provide a source of hope for their town. The film is a testimony to the transformative power of music, the resilience of the human spirit, and the importance of educating and empowering youth and communities.

Landfill Harmonic will leave your heart full and your ears wanting more. Ready to be inspired?

We’re so excited to bring Landfill Harmonic to the big screen at the Canton Palace Theatre.

The film is playing November 17 at 7pm, tickets are $5 and doors open at 6:30, so mark your calendars!

Get Tickets

We’re partnering with the Canton Symphony Orchestra to bring this film to the big screen. Here are 7 things you should know about this testament to the power of education, youth, and music.

First of all, the trailer. The world sends them trash. They send back music:

The film opens in Cateura, Paraguay, a town that sits on a gigantic landfill. Most of the residents in Cateura make their living by sorting through the trash and selling things they find.

Environmental engineer Favio Chávez came to Cateura to assist in a recycling program for the landfill, but when that failed, he found something much more musical: the creative passion of young people. He and his friend Nicolás began fashioning instruments out of salvaged garbage items.

Chávez wanted the children in the town to have a safe place to play–someplace other than a trash heap. He becomes the director of the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, and begins teaching local kids how to play instruments. Violin made out of trash

Most of the instruments are made out of things found around the landfill, like tin cans, forks, and discarded X-ray film. But there’s another reason the instruments are made out of trash. “For many children, it was impossible to give them a violin to take home because they had nowhere to keep it and their parents were afraid they would be robbed, or the instrument would be sold to buy drugs,” said Chávez. The instruments–and the kids–are much safer since everything is recycled.

The filmmakers posted a short video about the Orchestra on social media–and their story explodes online. A Kickstarter to make the documentary was quickly funded, and soon the Orchestra, and the filmmakers, are touring the world in concert halls, stadiums, and arenas.

David Ellefson, bassist for the metal band Megadeth, becomes the Orchestra’s hero when he visits and gives them the chance to play with the band on tour.

The Recycled Orchestra playing on stage

“Landfill Harmonic” will leave your heart full and your ears wanting more.

Ready to be inspired? Get your tickets now!

Are you an educator? Want your students to watch Landfill Harmonic for free? Get the details here!

Recycled Violins

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